As pride month comes to an end, it is important to continue to support the LGBTQ+ community, in many ways. Support can look like anything, from correcting yourself if you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, to supporting legislation and policies surrounding trans people in sport, to educating yourself on issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community that you previously weren’t aware of.
Part of my mission over the last few years has been to bring visibility and education of transgender identities. I deliver training on trans and intersex awareness, creating a safe and open space for people to ask questions.
As a part of my training, we discuss the use of pronouns, and how they can be important to many trans people. This includes moving between “he” and “she” to better fit the person’s identity or using a different pronoun altogether.
One pronoun that has been more openly discussed, and sometimes criticised, is the singular pronoun “they”. I use they/them pronouns and have done over the last five years. We live in a culture that is in the process of making a large shift from “they” being used as a plural pronoun, to one where a lot of people are feeling more and more comfortable in using it to describe their own experiences with gender. But in all honesty, it’s not that new. It’s just more noticeable.
The biggest question people have for me, and other people that use they/them pronouns, is “how do I use them?” and it’s always been very lovely for me to hear when people are to open to learning.
The short answer is, as you would when discussing a group.Such sentences as:
“This is Alex, he likes football!” Becomes “This is Alex, they like football!”.
“I invited Sarah, I think you’ll like her.” becomes “I invited Sarah, I think you’ll like them.”
Some people have commented that it can feel awkward to use “they” pronouns for a singular person – but we’ve always done it, it’s just been so casually it has flown under people’s radar.
“The postman has been – did they deliver my package?”
“I didn’t hear them, what did they say?”
“They” has always been a way of discussing someone we don’t know the gender of – and for non-binary people, it is a way of expressing that they do not identify with “he” or “she”.
If anyone you know has come out or requested you use different pronouns for them, don’t panic! No one expects you to get it right perfectly first time, but what is important is how you handle any mistakes you make.
The important thing is to be polite – if you notice the mistake yourself, simply apologise, correct yourself and move on. Bringing attention to the mistake can make the person you are talking to or about uncomfortable, especially if they are not out to many people.
And if someone notices your mistake and corrects you, simply thank them for correcting you, correct your statement, and move on. Thanking someone reinforces that you are a safe person to have that discussion with, and shows that you are open to adapting and correcting yourself. For many trans people, including myself when I first came out, it can be a daunting experience to put yourself in that vulnerable a position – so the more positive the experience, the easier it becomes.
There are some amazing resources out there for those that are new to the topic of trans identities and issues, from LGBT Youth Scotland and Scottish Transgender Alliance to LGBTQ+ icons such as Laverne Cox, Aydian Dowling, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard and Lady Phyll.
Authenticity is important to everyone, and I feel that it is a collective effort to help each other to be able to express who they are without fear of judgement.